LONDON: Every player dreams of scoring a stunner that clinches a title, but only special players like Robin van Persie have the vision, skill and ice-cold blood of a nerveless goalscorer to do it for real.
The 29-year-old Dutchman turned the dream into reality after 13 minutes of Manchester United’s 3-0 win over Aston Villa at Old Trafford on Monday by scoring a memorable second of a first-half hat-trick as United went on to clinch their 20th league title.
Fittingly the man in the No.20 shirt played a major part in securing the victory, much as he has often done during his first season at Old Trafford.
Yet it was his second goal that grabbed the attention and became an instant contender for the best ever scored in the old stadium.
Already leading 1-0 from Van Persie’s first after two minutes, Wayne Rooney sent a high upfield pass from just inside his own half.
Van Persie, weaving one way then the other to escape his marker, watched the flight of the ball as it came back down to earth before unleashing a thunderous left-foot volley from the edge of the penalty area that flew past the spellbound Villa keeper Brad Guzan and into the back of the net.
For good measure he completed his hat-trick after 33 minutes with a shot in off the post and early in the second half headed a rare Villa goal attempt off the line as he picked up his first league title as a player following his spells with Feyenoord and Arsenal. Asked how highly he rated the second goal among those he had ever scored he told Sky Sports: “It’s one of the best but it didn’t really matter who scored it. It was an incredible ball from Wayne, the only thing I had to do was time it right and hit it properly.
“It went in great, but more importantly, we won.”
Manager Alex Ferguson said he thought it was “amazing” that player No. 20 scored the hat-trick that sealed the club’s 20th title.
“That is amazing that, and the 13th Premier League title so there were a lot of coincidences tonight. But for me the second goal was not just the goal of the season, but the century. It was a magnificent strike. He has been unbelievable.
“His form in the first six months of the season was incredible, then he had that spell when he didn’t score a goal and then, with the penalty against Liverpool, I thought ‘he’s alive now’. He was unbelievable tonight, marvellous.”
There were other players who performed superbly for United as they clinched the title for the 13th time since the Premier League began in 1992-93, but Van Persie personified their majestic performance.
If things had turned out differently and Van Persie had joined Manchester City rather than Manchester United last year, the blue half of the city might well be celebrating another Premier League title rather than the boys in red.
But when Van Persie chose to swap the red shirt of Arsenal for the red of United in a 24-million-pounds ($36.59-million) deal last summer, the balance of power in Manchester, and the Premier League, swung back United’s way.
The Dutchman, who has stayed fit throughout the season after injury marred much of his time at Arsenal, has been instrumental in leading United’s charge to the title scoring 24 league goals so far.
With his main rival for the golden boot, Luis Suarez of Liverpool, set to face a long ban after biting Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic on Sunday, Van Persie now looks likely to finish as the league’s highest scorer.
It would be the second straight season he has won the award, after his 30 goals for Arsenal in the last campaign.
That statistic alone speaks volumes for his contribution to United’s title challenge, which began with a 1-0 opening-match defeat at Everton, but came to life when they beat Fulham 3-2 in their second game.
Fittingly Van Persie scored their first league goal of the campaign in the 10th minute of that match and, apart from a blip between the middle of February and the middle of this month, he has found the net with fearful regularity.
One key performance came at Southampton in only the third game of the season when United trailed the newly-promoted Saints 2-1 with three minutes to go but won 3-2 when he scored his first hat-trick of the season.
Another last-minute winner came in United’s 3-2 win at Manchester City in December, a huge result in the overall scheme of the season.
A year ago, he was named England’s Footballer of the Year after his goals for Arsenal and now stands a chance of making history as the first player to win the award in successive seasons for different clubs.